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House committee pushing 10th warship

A key congressional committee is pushing for the construction of the tenth in a series of amphibious war ships that are built at Northrop Grumman Corp. shipyards in Mississippi and Louisiana — a major manufacturing employment driver in the region.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday included $1.8 billion for the additional vessel in the LPD-17 series in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Earlier, the Senate Armed Services Committee signed off on $170 million, which when combined with other funds, would provide $323 million in pre-construction expenses for the ship.

Each of the LPD vessels are 25,000 tons, 684 feet long and 105 feet wide and can carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 Marines who are delivered to shore in assault operations by helicopters and landing craft. In February, the fifth in the series — the USS New York — was christened at Northrop Grumman’s New Orleans-area Avondale yard.

That yard, along with Northrop Grumman facilities at Pascagoula and Gulfport in Mississippi are all involved in the LPD construction. The Pascagoula facility employs about 11,500 workers, while 5,500 are on the Avondale payroll. Gulfport, where the giant masts for the LPD are built, employs about 200, said Bill Glenn, a Northrop Grumman spokesman.

President Bush did not propose any money for the 10th LPD in his fiscal year 2009 budget, raising concerns about when, and if, the ship would be built.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called the House committee action “an important, and needed, first step.”

“I will continue working to help ensure that this provision remains in the final authorization that comes out of conference committee and, ultimately, that the funding for this important project is included in the coming defense appropriations bill,” Vitter said in a statement.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said that full funding for the ship would not only prevent the possibility of shipyard layoffs, but would save a potential $500 million in shutdown costs.

“We must keep our Louisiana production lines open, our shipbuilders working and our Marines and sailors as safe as possible,” Landrieu said in a statement.

Currently, the sixth ship in the series, the San Diego, is being erected at Pascagoula where it is 30 percent complete and scheduled to be delivered to the Navy during the second quarter of 2010.

The Anchorage, the seventh LPD, is 15 percent complete at the Avondale yard with a delivery date sometime during the first quarter of 2011. The Arlington is scheduled for its keel laying in Pascagoula next month and construction will start on the ninth vessel, the Somerset, next month at Avondale.

The Anchorage is scheduled for delivery during the third quarter of 2011, while the Somerset should be finished in the first quarter of 2012, Northrop Grumman said.